Ten minutes later, Carlos pulled onto the shoulder of an unpaved road. After he and Tab got out, he locked the car and drew a small GPS unit from a cargo pocket in his BDUs. “Hang on—” He took a few steps to orient the unit, then turned and strode across the dusty road, boots grinding in the dry gravel. “This way. Just a short walk, now.”
Tab muttered, “At least we’re not wearing Class As,” before following.
They walked along a deer path through hardwoods and poison ivy when Carlos heard the same voice he’d spoken with on the radio.
“That’s far enough, Sergeant.”
Carlos turned to see a mound of dirt move and rise into the figure of a man wearing a ghillie suit of rough, earth-colored rags. “Check’em out, Jenna.”
“Right,” a female behind Carlos answered.
As Carlos spun around, a compact young woman stepped out of the trees in camo BDUs. What the hell, she wasn’t there a second ago—
Jenna seemed to read his mind. “That’s okay,” she said with a smirk, “I’m a sneaky little wench when I want to be.” She hummed a random little tune as she waved a wand that looked like it was made from a curling iron in the air around his body. A steady static hiss came from a small speaker. She finished with Carlos and waved it around Tab. “Okay, no bugs, and they came alone.”
“Sergeant Villanueva,” said Jon, “I’ll come right to the point. I want you to leave us alone. Don’t contact us anymore, and shut down your investigation of NADIA.”
Carlos looked them up and down for a minute. They didn’t carry any long weapons, but that didn’t rule out pistols. And the way they were just standing, it didn’t look like they were in too much of a hurry to use them. But something about this Jenna woman nagged at him. Maybe it was just the casual, self-confident smirk she wore. But she was someone he did not want to make mad. All the same, he felt safe enough to respond honestly to the request to desist. “Can’t do that, Agent Daniels. I’m under orders to get to the bottom of NADIA. You’ve been sheltering a known felon and using him to illegally obtain information—”
Jon said, “Are you a cop?”
“Huh?” Carlos’ jaw hung open, caught open in mid-sentence.
I asked if you’re a cop. It’s a simple question.” Jon removed his hood and stepped closer, looking like a comical cross between Sasquatch and a homeless man with the rags hanging loose from his suit. “A yes or a no will do.”
“Then shut down your investigation. It’s a matter for the Justice Department, not the Army.”
Tab said, “What’s NADIA?”
Jenna stepped up, nose to nose with her. “Who’s asking?”
“The United States Army, on whom you’ve been eavesdropping,” said Carlos.
Jon said, “You could have closed the hole in your firewall.”
“I peeked back through. It led me to you.”
“It’s also going to lead to you getting a bullet in your head, if you dig any further.”
Carlos felt the hair on his neck stand up. “Is that a threat?”
Jon shook his head. “Not from me, Sergeant. But the enemy has moles everywhere. For all you know, the one who gave you the orders to find me, may have done so only so they could take us all out.”
“Don’t you think you’re being just a little paranoid?”
“Do yourself a favor, Villanueva—start checking your superiors for connections to the Global Unification Alliance.”
Jenna whispered in Carlos’ ear, “Chapter Seventeen. Look for it.”
Jon’s brow wrinkled. “I’m sorry, what?”
Jenna stepped back. “Just keeping your ass out of the meat grinder, Jon. Let these guys handle that one.”
“Are we going to have to have a talk when we get back?”
“No, dear.” She gave Jon a sly grin as a flush rose in his face.
Carlos interjected, “So this…group will lead us to NADIA?”
“No, Carlos,” said Jon. “It will lead you away from NADIA.”
* * * *
Now for the story behind the picture behind the story:
First off, I know this is a paved road, and the excerpt specified an unpaved road. But it was too pretty back where I was, to pass up.
I was looking for where I had plotted Irving's cabin to be, and cruising the back roads toward the Mighty Shenandoah. I think this was Locke's Mill Road, not far from the highway. But it looks so remote, it was perfect for the shot. So I took this one, specifically for this scene.
And that, my friends, brings us to the close of our photo tour of the NADIA project. It's my hope that you could put faces and places to names, and that my series becomes a little more vivid for you.
Next week, we'll go back to our usual, somewhat controlled, chaos. Till then, happy reading!